Houston Councilman demands investigation of San Jacinto River Authority

When the signal came to open the floodgates of a Lake Conroe dam filled to the brim by Harvey, the unprecedented outpour was enormous and devastating.

Houston City Councilman Dave Martin says the catastrophic results downstream in Kingwood were tragically predictable.

"I am not going to sleep one minute until I figure this out and hold people accountable because what they did to us was life changing. Who were they protecting? Were they protecting the vested interest of the people in and around Lake Conroe?" said Martin who represents Kingwood.

Martin is pleading with Governor Greg Abbott to open an investigation.

"We want to know what were they looking at in terms of protocols and processes to determine why they would take and open up wide the Lake Conroe dam and flood us like we've never been flooded before in the history of our area," said Martin.

As many as 5,000 homes in Kingwood took on water. The San Jacinto River Authority contends its actions prevented that number from being much higher by dramatically reducing the so called "peak flow rate".

Facing a lawsuit from folks flooded downstream, the San Jacinto River Authority declined to speak on camera, but has claimed repeatedly that its unprecedented release of water was necessary to preserve the dam's integrity and prevent even greater damage.

It's an answer that, so far, has failed to satisfy water-logged Kingwood homeowners.

"We had a weather report forecast that we were going to get up to 35 inches of rain a good two weeks or at least ten days out, so why didn't they manage it then? That's my question," asked Albert Harvey whose Kingwood home was flooded.

The SJRA says it never "pre-releases" water ahead of a storm and contends doing so would have been ineffective and could have exacerbated downstream flooding, putting lives at risk.

It's one of many claims Martin and flood victims are only prepared to swallow if it comes from an extremely knowledgeable, independent source.

The SJRA has posted a detailed response to most questions posed by flooded homeowners on its website: http://www.sjra.net/

SJRA General Manager Jace Houston issued the following statement to FOX 26:

Mr. Groogan, Thank you for the opportunity to provide some comments related to your story.  I wish I could visit with you in person and provide additional information, but the recent litigation that was filed has forced us to handle most comments in writing.

SJRA’s response to calls for an investigation by the legislature:

• SJRA welcomes any investigation the legislature feels is necessary to help people gain a better understanding of how Lake Conroe operates during storm events. 

What does SJRA look at as far as operating protocols during a storm?

• The primary goal during a storm event is to protect life and property - both upstream and downstream.  That is accomplished during an event by gradually passing storm flows (i) without allowing water to overtop the gates or the embankment, (ii) while ensuring that the peak release rate from the spillway is LOWER than the peak rate of water flowing into the lake, and (iii) while also ensuring that the lake level remains within the six-foot flowage easement or inundation zone around the lake.

Did the releases from Lake Conroe cause flooding?

• Absolutely not.  The Lake Conroe dam actually REDUCES downstream flooding by reducing the peak flow of water going through Lake Conroe.  During Harvey, the peak flow coming into Lake Conroe was approximately 130,000 cubic feet per second, while the peak release rate was 79,000 cubic feet per second.  The operation of the dam actually lowered the peak flow from the Lake Conroe watershed by over 50,000 cubic feet per second, thereby reducing downstream flooding.

Did SJRA operate in a way designed to protect homes around Lake Conroe at the expense of others?

• Absolutely not.  The operating protocol for Lake Conroe is designed to safely pass the flows coming into the lake without allowing the lake to rise over the six-foot operating zone.  The goal is to balance releases with lake level rise.  In this event, the lake rose over five feet, so nearly the entire six-foot operational limit was utilized. 

Is it true that the “Normal Pool” level of Lake Conroe used to be 198’ above mean sea level, but it was raised to 201’?

• No.  Normal pool has always been 201’ MSL.

Is it true that there are no SJRA board members from Harris County?

• Currently, two board members addresses are Montgomery County, two are Harris County, and one is Chambers County.